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Perfect One Day Itinerary for Zion National Park

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Need a quick and easy one day itinerary for Zion National Park? Want to beat the crowds? Looking for hikes that give you the best value for your limited time? Don’t want to risk your life for a hike? We got you.

This easy to follow one day itinerary to Zion National Park, Utah will help you beat the crowds and maximize your hiking time.

Zion Perfect Day Pinterest Image (7)

Catch the First Shuttle Bus

The best way to beat the crowds is to get to the park before them.

We arrived just before 7 am to catch the first shuttle bus of the day. The shuttle bus schedule changes throughout the year, so check when they start for your visit.

Zion shuttle taking passengers through the park, Zion National Park, Utah

Keep in mind, Zion’s shuttle buses often start earlier than the Springdale shuttles.

On our trip, the Springdale buses didn’t start until 8 am. Instead of waiting the hour for the Springdale shuttle, we drove and parked for free at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. It may seem like an early start, but often the Zion Visitor Center parking fills up between 8 am – 9 am anyway.

We stayed at the Zion Canyon Lodge, which was only a 5-minute drive away. There are also a few hotels close enough to walk into the park.

Our post Getting Around Zion further explains the shuttle buses and parking.

Take the Zion Shuttle to the Last Stop

We got off the shuttle at Stop 9 – Temple of Sinawava to start at the back of the park.

Okay, little side note. There are a lot of deceiving names at Zion. There’s actually no temple. Just like at Stop 6 – The Grotto, has no grotto.

From the bus stop, we followed the paved path to the left. The 2.2-mile round trip Riverside Walk took us about 1.5 hours. The trail was paved and was by far the easiest walk in the park.

We also saw the most wildlife on this trail, with mule deer and chipmunks being quite prevalent. 

Mule deer eating along Riverside Walk Trail, Zion National Park, Utah
Mule Deer grazing along the Riverside Walk Trail
Looking up the Virgin River, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park Stop 9
Virgin River, Riverside Walk

The Riverside Walk ended where the most famous hike in Zion begins, The Narrows.

To do the full hike up The Narrows is 9.4 miles round trip and takes about 8 hours. However, most folks only do a short section before turning around.

Even doing a short section requires wading through the cold Virgin River. Having good water shoes and a hiking stick is a must.

Unfortunately, there was a high risk of flash flooding while we were there, so we couldn’t do the trail. If you are going to do any section of The Narrows, check the flash flood risk before heading out.

With only one day in Zion National Park, we recommend doing more short hikes rather than one long hike. If you have multiple days in the park, the Narrows are worth considering.

Start of The Narrows hiking trail, Zion National Park, Utah
Start of The Narrows hike

Later in the day we did see flash flooding throughout the park. As thunderstorms rained down on Zion, makeshift waterfalls popped up everywhere. It was quite the sight, but only because we were in a safe spot when it happened.

Flood warning sign for the Narrows hiking trail, Zion National Park, Utah
Sign warning of probable flash flooding

Quick Look at Big Bend - Stop 8

The shuttles only stopped at Big Bend on the return trip.

Though there were no featured hikes here, it was worth a quick stop for the view of the Great White Throne with Angels Landing in the foreground. From the canyon floor, we could even see a couple of hikers making their way to Angels Landing.

Lucky us, there was a nest of endangered California Condors on the cliffs below Angels Landing. Though visitors weren’t allowed anywhere in the nesting area, the park rangers had telescopes so everyone could watch the very large babies. 

The Great White Throne, Zion National Park, Utah
Great White Throne

Looking for Something Challenging?

As we started our day early, we were ahead of the crowds. The shuttles making their way into the canyon were already starting to fill, but we were headed the other way.

Once again, we skipped the longer hike, Angels Landing at Stop – 6. Though, the park rangers also warned us that Angels Landing shouldn’t be attempted on rainy days.

If you’re not familiar with Angels Landing, it’s a challenging hike, known for some pretty dangerous drop-offs. Even in good weather, it may not be for you.

However, there is an alternative, if you’re up for a challenging hike that doesn’t risk your life. You could do just the first part of the Angels Landing trail, up to Scout Lookout. The walk from Stop 6 is about 5 miles round-trip and takes about 2.5 hours.

As there’s no shade, and the hike gets very crowded, we recommend doing this one early in the day.

Next Stop, Zion Lodge

We got off the shuttle at Stop – 6 to look for “The Grotto.” However, it doesn’t actually exist. Instead of getting back on the shuttle, we took The Grotto Trail to Zion Lodge. It’s a nice easy paved walk but wasn’t really worth the time. 

At Zion Lodge, we grabbed a quick late breakfast and coffee at the onsite cafe. By the time we finished, we could tell things were starting to get busier.

View from bridge at the Emerald Pool Trail, Zion National Park, Utah
View down the canyon from the bridge to the Emerald Pools Trail

From Zion Lodge, we crossed the street for the Emerald Pools Trail.

We found it easier to head up the Lower Emerald Pools Trail to the Upper Pools. On the return trip, we took the Middle Pools Trail back down, which had the best views.

Honestly, the pools are not worth writing about, but with views up and down the canyon, the hike was gorgeous.

View of cliffs from Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, Utah
View from the Upper Emerald Pools Trail
Rock reflected in Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, Utah
Upper Emerald Pool

Tarantulas seem to be common in Zion, not as common as chipmunks or mule deer, but we did see two on our adventures. The first one we saw was making its way across the Lower Emerald Pools Trail. To our surprise they are very slow.

Tarantula on Lower Emerald Pools Trail, Zion National Park, Utah
Tarantula on Lower Emerald Pools Trail

Take in the View of the Court of the Patriarchs

By the time we finished the Emerald Pool Trail, it was mid-afternoon, and we were starving. We headed back to the car at the visitor center where we left our picnic lunch.

Shortly after sitting down at one of the tables at the back of the parking lot, it started storming. It had been drizzling on-and-off all day, but now it was thundering and lightening. Unfortunately, that put a damper on heading back into the main park. 

Our regret, not stopping for the quick view of the Court of the Patriarchs before grabbing lunch. The trail only takes a couple of minutes to do and it’s worth the look.

At the end of the small trail is a viewpoint of five mountain peaks: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, The Sentinel, and Mount Moroni. 

Apparently, it’s beautiful in the morning light; however, with only one full day at Zion, we were more concerned about not getting stuck in the crowds. Plus, we found a better spot for sunrise in Zion.

Browse Zion's History Museum

Zion’s History Museum was closed during our visit. However, once you’ve done the majority of the canyon, this would be a good time to take a look. 

Plus, it’s a great spot for viewing the sunset.

Sunset view of Bridge Mountain and museum, Zion National Park, Utah
Sunset view of Bridge Mountain and museum

With a Little Extra Time

If you have a bit of extra time in your day you can:

  • Walk the Pa’rus Trail from the visitor center (2 hours).
  • Drive the east section of the park via the Zion – Mt. Carmel Road.
  • Explore the Kolob Canyon Terrace Road – Another fantastic place for sunset.
Kolob Canyon is where we spent the remainder of our day. It’s a much quieter area of the park and puts on a phenomenal show for sunset.
Sunset on the Kolob Canyon Terrace Road, Zion National Park, Utah
Sunset on the Kolob Canyon Terrace Road

Continue with our First Time Visitor’s Guide to Zion National Park.

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